>> Saturday evening saw us at the Indian Express’ adda to meet Delhi CM Sheila Dixit at AD Singh’s delightful Olive at the racecourse. We have been fans of Ms Dixit ever since we spent time with her for a newspaper profile some years ago. Since then, we have visited her at her home in Delhi and met her on several occasions and been struck not only by her skillful leadership qualities but also by her warmth, decency and striking emotional intelligence.
All this and more were on display at the adda. Flanked by her interlocutors Shekar Gupta and Star TV’s Uday Shankar, Ms Dixit conducted herself with admirable poise.
Described by Gupta as a species of politician this city has not seen, Dixit had the audience, which comprised of some of Mumbai’s most celebrated movers and shakers eating out of the palm of her dainty (but firm) hand! “I have lived 74 out of New Delhi’s 100 years,” she said candidly referring to the city’s anniversary. “And I have to admit I am passionate about it.”
When asked if she was in the practice of exchanging notes with Mumbai CM Prithiviraj Chavan she said no, but pointed out that whereas she only ran Delhi, he had a vastly larger canvas to attend to besides Mumbai. (“Besides I don’t have land and the police under me”) Deftly sidestepping questions on the perceived tension between herself and 10 Janpath, Dixit made several attempts to refute the claims that her party did not encourage strong leaders emerging.
“I would like to make it clear that I have not felt any discouragement, and if other people say they do, I feel they use it as an excuse,” she said. Spotted in the crowd were Aditya Puri, Sonal and Andrew Holland, OP Bhatt, Harsh Goenka, Dilip Piramal, Piyush Pandey, Sunil and Maya Alagh, Anil Dharkar, Bharat Kejriwal and Anuradha Tandon. And amongst the many memorable moments of the evening two were outstanding.
Dixit describing her party chief Sonia Gandhi as ‘a very understanding person’ and her response to a lady’s question about what it feels like to be a woman in politics. “After a while you stop being a gender,” she said.
>> We spoke to Jawahar Sircar, the dynamic former culture secretary, govt of India, who has been recently appointed as the chief executive officer of public broadcaster Prasar Bharati yesterday and were delighted to learn that the man who oversaw some of the country’s most ambitious and successful culture initiatives plans to do the same for Doordarshan.
And it is not surprising that one of the areas he is bringing his immense knowledge and expertise to is DD’s cultural channel DD Bharati, a bi-lingual channel with an accent on education and information. “I am here in Mumbai on DD work and I took this opportunity to invite some of the city’s most respected members of the cultural community like DR Saryu Doshi, Abha Narain Lamba, Sabyasachi Mukerjee and Shirin Bharucha who head its cultural institutions to give me ideas on how we can best enhance our channel,” he said. “Even by a conservative estimate DD’s footprint covers 40 million homes. It is by far the most viewed channel in the country,” he told us. “A measure of its significance is that when Aamir Khan wanted to ensure his program Satyamev Jayate had maximum impact he tied up with DD. I regard the Kala Ghoda area, which houses the Jehangir art gallery, the NGMA, the Prince of Wales Museum etc as the most culturally dense square mile in the country, and I am hoping that by engaging with people such as these we can take culture to a new viewership.” We like!
>> The little item we had carried on Parsis in Bollywood (expectedly) elicited its fair share of response. Amongst the much-admired characteristics of Parsis is the community’s penchant for accuracy and fact.
(Many years ago when we had written an article on Parsis for the New York Times, we had been similarly inundated with letters from members of the community.) So Shernaz Lakdawalla who describes herself as ‘a senior citizen and an ardent fan of the column’ wrote in to point out that Nadia Hunterwali nee Mary Evans was not a Parsi — and was only married to Homi Wadia.
And Khan Bahadur Ardeshir Irani maker of Alam Ara (the first Indian talkie) and actors Farooq Shaikh and Rahul and Akshaye Khanna have Parsi mothers and ‘veteran actress Shammy Aunty nee Nergis Rabadi is a Parsi’. Meanwhile Jahangir Patel, managing editor of Parsiana wrote in to point out (exceedingly politely, we must add) that ‘the term half Parsi has a negative connotation akin to half-breed. Sufficient to say a person has a Parsi mother or father.’
“Legally, a Parsi is defined as an offspring of a Parsi father. So even if the mother is a non-Parsi, the progeny would be Parsi (not half Parsi). But if a Parsi woman marries a non-Parsi her children are not considered Parsis in law. So to avoid any gender discrimination it is best to mention the parent who is Parsi and leave it at that. At Parsiana we consider the children of either Parsi parent a Parsi.” Both letters noted and acknowledged with thanks! Keep ‘em coming!
Look who’s in the lobby!
>> Even while he was all over the news channels and had captured the nation’s mind space with his nomination to the Presidency, guess where the ever-smiling Pranab da was on Saturday?
You’ll never believe it, but at the Trident Hotel at BKC! And who do you think he ran into while on his way in to attend a function at the hotel? The Indian Express’ dashing editor in-Chief Shekhar Gupta himself in Mumbai to host Delhi CM Sheila Dixit at his adda. Did Shekhar, the incorrigible newshound, get any new updates on the Presidential elect? Did Mr Mukherjee’s body language yield any signals of what lies ahead? Mr Gupta’s not telling.
The Alpha Geek
>> A little bird tells us that Ravi Venkatesh, the dapper techie who until recently served as head honcho of Microsoft India and then went on to be appointed as a director of Infosys has taken the plunge to do what most people only dream of: get away from it all and write a book in three weeks flat in the inspiring town of Bellagio in Italy (deadline June 30) and after two decades of being at the very top of the game — give back to society.
Towards this end, Venkatesh has roped in fellow alpha geeks former Infosys board member Mohandas Pai, Aditi Technologies CEO Pradeep Singh, Zinnov Consulting CEO Pari Natarajan, Microsoft sales director Arun Rajamani to join him in SVP (Social Venture Partners) to strengthen and empower NGOs.
“NGOs need expert help as much as money. We are trying to help NGOs to become sustainable,” he said recently. And what’s the book going to be about? “My book’s working title is Learning from Chaos. It’s on the challenges and opportunities MNCs face in India. Good timing given the India story,” he said. And as far as deadlines go Venkatesh should be midway through the tome.